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Newman v. Bost

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Julia Newman (Plaintiff), files suit against the Defendant, F. W. Bost (Defendant), the administrator of the deceased’s estate, claiming the Defendant converted gifts the deceased had made to her by gift causa mortis.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. To constitute a gift causa mortis, a gift made in contemplation of and expectation of immediate death, there must be an intention to make a gift and actual delivery of that gift. The donor of the gift can expressly or impliedly intend to make a gift, but it must be clear that the donor knew what he was doing and that he intended to make a gift. Actual manual delivery must occur when articles are present and capable of manual delivery. Constructive delivery may occur when the things intended to be given are not present, or when present are incapable of manual delivery because of their weight or size.

    Facts. The Plaintiff, the housekeeper of the deceased, files suit against the administrator of the deceased’s estate, claiming the Defendant had converted items that the deceased had gifted to her in contemplation of his death. Among these items, were a life insurance policy and other valuable papers in the deceased drawer. Close to the interstate’s death, he had called the Plaintiff into his room and given her keys and told her to take them and keep them and to have everything in the house. One of the keys the Plaintiff had received unlocked the deceased’s bureau drawer that contained important papers and his life insurance policy. The court determined that the Plaintiff did not receive the life insurance policy or important papers in the bureau drawer as the deceased had been capable of delivering these items to her and he did not, thus actual manual delivery did not occur.

    Issue. Whether the deceased’s actions of handing private keys to the Plaintiff and instructing her that he wanted her to have everything in the house constituted a gift causa mortis of all of the possessions in the house including the deceased’s life insurance policy.

    Held. As the life insurance policy was present in the room when the deceased gave his keys to the Plaintiff and the policy was capable of actual manual delivery, the policy was not part of the gift to the Plaintiff. But the bureau and other articles of furniture, capable of being unlocked by the keys given to the Plaintiff were gifts and the Plaintiff became owner.

    Discussion. Acquisition by gift causa mortis requires the intent of the donor to make such a gift and delivery of the gift. Actual, manual delivery is needed if the item is capable of being given and is in the presence of the donor and the donee. Constructive delivery of the item is deemed sufficient if the item is incapable of being manually delivered because of its size or it is not in the presence of the donor and donee.


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